When asked about the most challenging problem of adolescence, teens did not respond with maintaining grades or meeting the expectations of their parents. It was the problem of fitting in. Teens expressed that they hated the problem of having to find a social group to be a part of.
Of course, feelings of acceptance and rejection come up when there is such high importance on social rules. In school, you probably don’t want to be seen spending time alone. And you certainly don’t want to be seen spending time with those that most of the rest of the class don’t like – you know, the nerds, geeks, and freaks. At the same time, if you do find a group that you enjoy spending time with but you know you might be judged for it, how do you reconcile the two? How can you stay true to who you are without feeling judged?
It’s an incredibly difficult challenge for some teens. Of course, for some adolescents, the social aspect is easy. They’ve got it down. They’re attractive or they might have a charismatic personality or they might be smart. Whatever the case, being social, friendly, and likeable comes naturally.
Yet, for many teens, those who perhaps struggle with weight issues or mental health concerns, the social aspect of adolescence is hard. One of the reasons it might be so challenging is that it’s the precise area in life that is calling for attention. Adolescence is the one and only time in life that is devoted to finding your identity, your unique role in life. Adolescence is a time when teens (consciously or unconsciously) dabble in role playing, dressing differently to express their uniqueness, and spending time with people they might not otherwise spend time with. Part of the teen years is exploring who you are, what you like, and the type of person you might want to be one day. In order to do this exploring, a teen might hang out with someone that they admire or appreciate. A teen might do something they’ve never done before. It’s a crucial time for finding self-identity and uniqueness.
And part of this exploration is staying true to yourself. It’s expressing who you are through your clothes, hairstyle, or even simply by the way you walk. Yet, when being who you are means walking through the hallways alone, it can be hard. When expressing yourself means getting judged by your classmates, it can be very difficult.
So, one great challenge of adolescence is attempting to fit in and feel a sense of belonging among your peers. Ultimately, balancing the opposing forces of social expectations and staying true to yourself will be your task in adolescence. However, Brene Brown, scholar in social work and author of many books wrote the following words. Perhaps they can ease this struggle and facilitate your journey through life as an adolescent.
Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.